Bullying by sext

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More than a third of secondary school children have been sent messages containing sexual content, according to a new report by the charity Beatbullying.

Researchers found youngsters are being sent sex texts, or 'sexts', often by their school friends.
The messages contain images of sex acts involving young people and of youngsters - both boys and girls - exposing themselves.

Common ‘sexts’ include images of young boys exposing themselves or masturbating, boys who have requested girls to remove their clothing and images of sexual acts which would be considered by most as pornographic.

Material is often Bluetoothed, added to home built websites, uploaded onto social networking groups and sent around by email or text.

Cases of sexting have been well documented in the US and Australia, but little is known of young people’s exposure to sexting and other forms of peer to peer (sexual) anti social behaviour via mobile phones and the internet.

The most common ways of communicating sexually explicit material are via Bluetooth, by uploading it on to a personal website or social networking site, or by e-mailing and texting it to individuals.

Nearly one in three said they were using an online messaging service when content of a distressing sexual nature was introduced.

A higher proportion of women than men said this was the case - 31% as opposed to 24%.

Beatbullying’s research of 11-18 year-olds found that:

  • 38% said they had received a sexually explicit or distressing text or email (male: 36% | female: 39%)
  • 70% of young people knew the sender of the message.
  • 45% of messages were from a peer, 23% from a current boyfriend / girlfriend and just 2% from adults
  • Of the 25% who received an offensive sexual image, 55% were issued via mobile phone
  • 29% have been chatting online chat when someone started talking about offensive or up-setting sexual things (male: 24% | female: 31%)
  • In this instance, 45% said the chat was instigated by a peer, 10% by an ex-partner and 2% by an adult

Emma –Jane Cross, chief executive of Beatbullying, said: “Beatbullying surveyed two thousand young people to understand how technology is changing the way they’re communicating and look at how they’re manipulating digital media to bully and pressurise their peers.

“We don’t want to inhibit young people in their exploration of sexuality, but it is important that parents and schools are aware that sexting is a significant issue amongst our children and young people, so together we can act to stop this kind of behaviour before it escalates into something far more problematic. This is about campaigning for the rights of our young people and for digital safety. We need to address the fact that sexual peer to peer contact is being exponentially facilitated through new technologies.

“The Byron report made a commitment to protecting our young people in this complicated new online era, the Government has a duty to ensure it meets these recommendations.

“We need to take series note of what has happened in the US and Australia. To avoid similar cases here, politicians must work together with organisations like Beatbullying to create an intervention and prevention task force in schools and communities.

“This needs to be part of the solution if we are to educate our young people, teachers and families about the consequences of their actions and how to keep safe online as well as offline.”

A spokesman for the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) said there were concerns that images, once taken, could find their way into the hands of paedophiles. Anyone holding images of youngsters or passing them on could be breaking the law, he warned.

'As mobile phones with cameras and internet access are readily available these days - and, indeed, the increased use of Bluetooth technology - images can be shared easily and at a reduced cost between friends at school,' he said.

'If you are worried that your child may be receiving or even sending indecent images on their mobiles, you should talk to them about the consequences of their actions.

'Make them aware that, once the image has been sent, they have lost control of that image and anyone can potentially have a look at it."

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